When we first saw the companion mechanic, our immediate reaction was “well, this is cool; it won’t work in Commander.” But, looking at the mechanic, there was nothing problematic about it. It was actually the kind of thing we really like to encourage. Brew with restrictions! Since we want the rules of Commander to match up to Magic where possible and healthy for the format, we took a second look.
We still don’t think Wishes and the other get-other-cards-from-outside-the-game are something we want in Commander. We outline our stance on wishes in the FAQ and none of the concerns we have with them applied here. The only issue was that the mechanic referred to outside the game. If the companion started in the Command Zone or Exile, it would have been fine. Since that’s clearly an arbitrary mechanical distinction, how could we adjust the rules to reflect this?
It turns out that it was easy. The problem with all prior mechanics which used outside-the-game was their open-endedness. They brought cards in from a giant unbounded set. All we had to do was change one word in Rule 11:
11: Abilities which bring other card(s) you own from outside the game into the game (such as Living Wish; Spawnsire of Ulamog; Karn, the Great Creator) do not function in Commander.
Companion now works within the framework of Commander – it’s bringing itself in – and nothing else changes. Similar mechanics will be fine in the future as long as they remain self-contained (though if we think they’re problematic, we’ll obviously take another look and ask ourselves why).
We recognize that this does let you go past the 100 card rule that is iconic to Commander. However, a single extra card you have to jump through serious hoops to get is philosophically okay in the same way that a tiny number of cards (like Relentless Rats) are able to violate the even-more-important singleton rule.
That left Lutri. We hate the idea of banning a card prior to release. We gave serious consideration to announcing that the card would almost certainly be banned with Core 2021 and letting it be legal rather than break our stance that all cards should be given a chance.
The argument that finally won the day was that not everyone would see that announcement. Many people would buy a legal Lutri as it goes alongside every deck with red and blue in it. Knowing that it would certainly be banned, we were uncomfortable setting up those folks, who are in many ways our primary audience, for far greater disappointment. Better to bend our stance.
This is where we say that it was a one-time thing and we don’t expect it to happen again, but that might not be entirely accurate. Wizards is free to explore weird spaces, and, as demonstrated here, those spaces may occasionally do something really problematic. If another card comes along that also does something novel that is incompatible with the format, we’ll ban it immediately. Note that “stupidly powerful” is not novel; those cards will get their chance to prove themselves.
Speaking of exceptional decisions, we are banning Flash (the card, not the mechanic). Enough cEDH players who we trust have convinced us that it is the only change they need for the environment they seek to cultivate. Though they represent a small fraction of the Commander playerbase, we are willing to make this effort for them. It should not be taken as a signal that we are considering any kind of change in how we intend to manage the format; this is an extraordinary step, and one we are unlikely to repeat.
We use the banlist to guide players in how to approach the format and hope Flash’s role on the list will be to signal “cheating things into play quickly in non-interactive ways isn’t interesting, don’t do that.”
We believe Commander is still best as a social-focused format and will not be making any changes to accommodate tournament play. Taking responsibility for your and your opponents’ fun, including setting expectations with your group, is a fundamental part of the Commander philosophy. Organizers who want to move towards more untrusted games should consider adding additional rules or guidance to create the Commander experience they want to offer.